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In a groundbreaking project that will help social agencies analyze data and apply for grant applications, four Lafayette computer science majors have developed an online database to chart risk factors and their consequences on the community for Northampton County Communities That Care, an organization that serves local elementary and secondary students.

The students made a presentation to the group Wednesday at ProJeCt for People, 320 Ferry Street.

Seniors Rashada Norman (Bethlehem, Pa.), Lazar Nikolic (Roswell, Ga.), and Matt Zawada (Mountain Top, Pa.) and part-time student Chuck Sklar (Phillipsburg, N.J.) are collaborating under the direction of Chun Wai Liew, assistant professor of computer science.

The information in the database will be made available on the Internet, where users will be able to select various components for comparison. The students will make a presentation to Northampton Communities That Care in early December.

“The expertise of the Lafayette students developing this web site for us is tremendous,” says Rachel Hogan, community mobilizer for Northampton Communities that Care. “The prototype has already shown us how member agencies of CTC, and anyone else in the community who is interested, will be able to click on one particular risk factor and indicator and immediately have a visual chart or graph that shows the measurement of that indicator. Member agencies applying for grant applications will now be able to gather the data they need, in a presentable and usable form, right from our web site.”

“This site, and its ease of use, will facilitate not only the collection of data, but also its thorough analysis, which the CTC Prevention Board has recently agreed is a priority as the organization moves forward,” adds Hogan. “This site will be a groundbreaking development in the CTC community across the Commonwealth.”

Although the students have had their moments of debate, they have worked side-by-side with a common focus: producing a well-constructed product, says Norman, who tutors local elementary school children in the America Reads, America Counts program administered by Lafayette’s Landis Community Outreach Center.

“Projects such as this that allow collaboration with other students particularly challenge one’s communication skills,” says Sklar. “While each may have an idea for the project, working within a team presents certain difficulties to effectively and unambiguously communicate that vision to others.”
“The opportunity to make a contribution to community while participating in a project that has relevance and provides real benefit outside the classroom is of particular importance to me,” he adds.

Bringing classroom teaching and expertise to bear in a “real-life setting” with significant consequences enhances the learning experience, says Hogan.

“Professor Liew made it clear to his class that CTC is a client and should be handled with the respect any client would deserve,” she says. “The students have had to learn to deal with a client that may not have understood exactly what it needed, and may not have had the ability to express what it wanted. [Within the first month], the Lafayette students already took what little direction I gave and created a product beyond what I had imagined.”

With an eye toward a career in web design, Norman has appreciated the opportunity to learn a new programming language and increase her overall knowledge of web design.

“Lafayette has exposed me to many real-life working environments that have helped me to not only realize my future interests, but also to work hard in order to reach my stars,” she says. “I hope to work in a company that serves the needs of many companies in the area of web design, since I enjoy working on multiple projects at once.”

“Lafayette’s greatest strength is its people,” says Sklar. “Everyone I’ve been associated with has had a sincere commitment to seeing me succeed. I’ve not yet finalized career plans and if life has taught me one thing, it is that opportunities and plans are not necessarily found together. My focus is on the opportunities my education will illuminate.”

One of the programs administered by Northampton County CTC is Adopt-A-Class, a mentoring program involving Lafayette students and other volunteers at Shawnee Middle School in Easton. Children who entered fifth grade in 1999 are being mentored and given other resources each year until their high school graduation in 2007 to promote academic and personal success.

“I am always encouraged when Lafayette students become a part of the larger community,” says Hogan. “Easton provides endless learning and social opportunities for the students, and the students bring a fresh vibrancy and ability and willingness to help. That symbiosis should always be nurtured.”

Another CTC program, Educating Children for Parenting, is administered with a group called Project Child in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade classrooms at Cheston Elementary School in Easton. Parent-child interaction is used to teach youth caring and compassionate behaviors and decision-making skills.

Northampton County Communities That Care is a collaborative organization founded in Easton in 1997. The CTC model of community organizing for youth is a state-endorsed process of analyzing community risks and resources and implementing proven programs to reduce risks for youth. More than 120 CTC organizations are operating in Pennsylvania. CTC brings together various institutional, academic, non-profit, business, and individual stakeholders to conduct a thorough assessment of community needs.

“In CTC, we identified two primary risk factors for youth, namely early initiation of the problem behavior and family management problems,” says Hogan. “We then implemented several programs to reduce those risk factors in Easton.”

Two researchers at the University of Seattle founded the CTC process after culling through 30 years of youth development research and identifying the 19 primary factors that put youth at-risk for five problem behaviors: teen pregnancy, dropout, juvenile delinquency, juvenile violence, and drug/alcohol use.

Each of those risk factors is measured by a series of indicators. Communities implementing the CTC process will gather data on those indicators to determine trends in risk factors: for example, an increase in the number of adults age 25 or older in the community lacking a high school education, combined with an increase in truancy rates, would indicate that the risk factor for lack of commitment to school was increasing. CTC would then consider implementing programs to increase commitment to school and reverse the increase in that risk factor.

Other risk factors include low neighborhood attachment and community disorganization, availability of drugs and firearms, favorable parental attitudes and involvement in the problem behavior, academic failure beginning in late elementary school, and extreme economic deprivation.

Categorized in: Academic News